Find Focus and Feel the ‘busyness’ of your location!
I live in the middle of nowhere. I love it because it is quiet, and my life can move at the pace I want it to. However, every now and again, I have to step out of my rural bubble and into the city craziness! It’s only as I become more aware of the outside influences on my way of thinking and reacting that I am starting to understand the way I photograph in reaction to a location.
Among the woodlands and out in the landscape, the pace of life is slow, the rhythms and timelines are barely noticeable, and my photography is slow and measured. I take time to identify what I am drawn to, and the images I make have a calm and contemplative feel to them. I just got back from an afternoon in Amsterdam yesterday evening and was intrigued to see how crazy and busy my images were! You see, without really realising it at the time I responded to my environment and reacted with the way I made my images.
I say ‘without really realising’, but actually, if I consider back to my thought processes and some of the decisions I made while in the city, I can identify some key points that ensured I came home with a set of cohesive images rather than an unstructured collection of grabbed snaps.
Like a lot of people, I can get quite overawed, sidetracked and frustrated when I am offered a scene that has so much to offer. It’s not just cities, but also landscapes offer this challenge for me. When there is so much going on in front of you, and you are not quite sure where your focus should be, it’s easy to just fire off images, feeling the need to capture what you see, but then be terribly frustrated when you get home because you seem to have made a random set of images that really did not replicate what you were seeing.
If this sounds like a familiar experience to you, I hope this blog post offers a couple of ideas to help you next time you face this situation.
Recognise and admit to yourself if you feel a bit overwhelmed. Then ask yourself what you are noticing
On arriving at Central Station in Amsterdam, I felt a bit overawed by the amount of people and the movement. People walking in every direction. Bikes whizzing past so close I could hear the air pass through their wheel spokes. Shouting, laughing and a general murmur of voices. Trains rattled overhead, and the busy passenger ferries seemed to be playing a game of honk the horn. It would have been easy to not see anything to photograph. However, I asked myself in all of this what it was I was noticing…… and it wasn’t the beauty of Amsterdam or reflections, I promise you!
What I was feeling was the ‘busyness’ of the location. I also felt that if I got my Nikon mirrorless camera out, I would stand out, and people might get upset about me making images (this is why I am not a natural street photographer). With these two points, I decided to use my phone instead of my camera to start with. It offered me a fairly inconspicuous way to record the scene in front of me. I moulded my body to the edges of walls and iron posts, forming the structural elements of the location in an attempt to not stick out as I made my images. I also knew that I wanted the movement to be a big part of the images, so I chose to use the ‘Slow Shutter Cam’ app on my iPhone in response. So, from a feeling of being overawed, I managed to give myself a couple of points to direct my camera use and technique.
Sets, not individual images
I have long been an advocate of photographing ‘sets’ of images or working on projects to tell a story of what I am experiencing. I think that whilst one or disjointed images can tell of each situation, a set can portray so much more. There are many ways to create sets, but starting with an idea or concept when you are at a location is a good starting point.
I decided on this occasion that the movement of people was my key concept. I decided to use my phone and the ICM technique to do this. I also decided I wanted to fill the frame as much as possible so that the viewer of the images might feel what I did while making them, that everywhere I looked were people!
If you can decide on an idea or narrow your subject matter down to a manageable chunk, you will narrow your options a little to encourage a point of focus for your photography.
Consider these as possible starter questions:
• Big camera or phone
• Colour or B&W
• Portrait or landscape orientation.
• Dimension – square or oblong
• Technique (slow shutter, ICM, Multiple exposure)
I noticed behind the station was the ferry terminal. Watching the wave of people getting on and off, I moved around the docking point to try to capture images that showed the flow of movement.
I was really pleased with the results, especially as it’s not something I photograph often. I made around 70 images in 15 minutes and chose these few to share with you so you can hopefully see how the ideas I had were translated into images.
Don’t be tied to a single idea
Just because you identify one idea to photograph, staying flexible and responsive to opportunities and your environment is also important. Embrace the opportunities. Once I left the area of the station, the crowds became less, and I started to notice how green the city was. On a Sunday, I noticed everyone outside enjoying the late summer weather and responded as such. I can’t share all my images in one post, but during my afternoon, I also captured a set of people just sitting using my Nikon Z6II, long lens and narrow depth of field. I also created a set of images which embraced the feeling of green in the city. And another set of reflections (which is what I had planned for my visit). Each of these sets was made because I took a moment to ask myself how I could work with what I was noticing and translate this into small groups of images.
On the way home, I was once again thrown among the crowds in the station, and whilst waiting for my train, I captured a few more images to add to my ‘people movement and busy’ collection.
So next time you are feeling a little overawed by what you are experiencing and how to bring that to your images, take a moment to ask yourself what YOU are really noticing. Then ask yourself how you can use your camera skills to bring that to life for others in the images you create.
– Charlotte Bellamy